When the Oscar nominations came out earlier this week I was delighted to see that Woody Allen’s most recent film, Midnight in Paris, was up for four awards including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Direction. The movie is a return to form for Allen and I enjoyed it so much, not least because it features one of my favourite eras in literature, the 1920s in Paris.
Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender, a part which Allen would have probably played himself if he were the right age. Allen has increasingly employed this tactic in recent movies, starting with Kenneth Branagh in 1998’s Celebrity, and Wilson does an admirable job here. Pender is a frustrated Hollywood screenwriter who dreams of writing a great novel. He is holidaying in Paris with his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams, playing against type as an unsupportive conservative shrew) and her parents. One night Gil gets drunk and wanders the streets of Paris trying to find his way back to the hotel. Shortly after midnight he comes across an antique car, and its passengers offer him champagne and invite him to join them on their travels. He soon realises that he has travelled back in time to the 1920s and he is in the company of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. They take him to Bricktop’s famous nightclub and introduce him to Hemingway who promises to give Gil’s novel to Gertrude Stein.
Every night thereafter at the same time Gil goes back in time to the 20s and meets a host of famous literary and artistic people, including Gertrude Stein (played by Kathy Bates), Dali (Adrien Brody), Alice B. Toklas, Djuna Barnes, Degas, Toulouse Lautrec, Gaugin, and Picasso. He falls in love with Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a captivating girl who has been a muse to many great men and is now with Picasso, and gets advice on his novel from Stein and Hemingway. Gil struggles with his dawning realisation that Inez might not be the girl for him and his nostalgia for the world he visits every night after midnight. Should he attempt to stay there or should he return to reality?
Midnight in Paris is a perfect film for a writer, evoking the inspirational artistic milieu and hedonism of 1920s Paris exactly as I imagined it. It’s not a groundbreaking movie and it doesn’t tackle big issues so it’s unlikely to win Best Picture at the Oscars, but it reminds us of the best of the movies – how a film can transport you and make you believe in magic – and for that reason alone it’s worth watching. Highly recommended.